Design & DIY

Getting a cottage inspection

Dan Osborne, a Manitoulin Island building inspector since 2002: “Building codes and inspectors are not a government money grab. We make sure decent buildings happen.”

Advice department
A good inspector is happy to answer “Can I do this?” questions. 
You can’t expect building inspectors to design your place, but a quick call or visit is often the fastest way to get things planned right.

If you build without a permit, you risk a steep fine. “Oops, I didn’t know” won’t cut it when I find out. I see it three or four times a year. Yes, different standards apply to seasonal vs. year-round structures, but they all need permits. It’s cottage country, not the Wild West.

Two common mistakes
Talking to me before you start can prevent serious technical mistakes too. Here are a couple of examples I often see in cottage builds:

1) Concrete footing pads that are too small or positioned badly will weaken the entire structure above. If your piers sit on the outside edge of the pads, that doesn’t fly—I’ve seen cottages where the pads have actually rolled over.

2) When you spike lumber together for built-up basement beams, the joints can only be located in very specific places, and it’s not always obvious where. Even experienced carpenters sometimes mess up, so ask your inspector for advice.

Regulation play
New, more complicated Code rules came into force in January. For instance, you can’t just put R22 batts in walls and pass inspection now. Acceptable wall construction varies by location, heating system, and the kind of windows you have, among other things.

Seasonal cottages are exempt from some requirements for insulation, electricity, and room size, but that can cost you in the end. If you build seasonal, then move in full time later, you’ll need to upgrade. It’s way easier to meet full-time standards up front than to retrofit afterwards.

Some owners think Code rules don’t apply in unorganized townships. They do, although you aren’t required to have an inspector check your work. It’s not as good as it sounds: If legal liability issues crop up later, you’re personally on the hook.